First Lesson: Joshua 24: 1-3a, 14-25
Responsive Reading: Psalm 78: 1-7
Second Lesson: 1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18
Gospel Lesson: Matthew 25: 1-13
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
This morning I want to tell you the story of a wedding. The wedding was the first one that I had ever done. My friend Ben was getting married. Ben and I had grown up by each other in Lindstrom. Ben was marrying a girl named Thelma. The thing worth noting about Thelma is that she came from Liberia. Ben was supposed to get married at 3 PM on Saturday. I arrive at the church at 2:30 PM only to see the Groom and Groomsmen all leaving for a fast-food run. I try to figure out “Where was Thelma to say no?” I soon find out that Thelma wasn’t in the building at 2:30 for a 3:00 PM wedding.
I’m standing around the church about 3:00 PM, when Thelma comes casually walking in the door. Thelma isn’t wearing her wedding dress, nor is she even in makeup.
I go upstairs to survey the sanctuary; this was an interesting wedding because there were two types of people in the crowd that day. You had Ben’s family and friends from Minnesota who wouldn’t have dared to be late to the 3:00 wedding.
Shortly after 3:00, Thelma’s family and friends many from the Liberian community started making their way into the church. 3:50 comes around when the wedding finally starts. What made this so interesting is that no one involved in the planning thought this to be any bit out of the ordinary.
Many of the Minnesotans expected the wedding to take place according to certain time constraints; where as others believed the wedding was ultimately going to happen when it happens.
Ben and Thelma are still happily married seven years later, and Ben works in the lab down at Saint Luke’s.
Today’s Gospel lesson comes to us from Matthew 25. It’s another story about a wedding, and a story about waiting patiently for its arrival in the story of the five Wise and five Foolish Virgins. Ten Virgins are waiting around for the Bride Groom. The Bride Groom doesn’t show up on time. The five Foolish Virgins couldn’t believe this occurrence. They had only stored enough oil for their lamps to get them through a certain hour. By the time, the Bride Groom arrived there was no oil in their lamps. There were no shopkeepers open to give them their oil. The door to their own wedding feast is shut on them because of their impatience.
What’s the point of this confounding tale regarding the Foolish Virgins impatience?
Let me tell another story with a little bit of background. My Dad was a freshman at the University of Minnesota in 1967 playing for the marching band. In 1967, the Golden Gopher Football is supposed to win the Big Ten Championship in Football. The whole marching band had already been given itineraries for a January 1st game in Pasadena, California for the Rose Bowl. The only problem was Indiana upsets Purdue; so the Gophers don’t end up going to the Rose Bowl. The Gophers have never made it back since that day.
As a family, we’ve always operated by the unwritten rule that if the Gophers make it to the Rose Bowl we’re all going to Pasadena for the game.
2000, My dad talks to a travel agent after the Gophers beat Ohio State, only to see the dream end the next week with a loss against lowly Indiana. Fast forward to 2014; The Gophers are 3-0 in the Big Ten for the first time since 1990. All the Gophers have to do was beat an Illinois team on the road that had only won once within the conference in the last two years being the Gophers though they fumble the ball and lose in the fourth quarter.
This game upset me more than it should! I got done watching it on tape about 8 PM at night. I stewed around the house until I finally could go to bed two hours later. What upset me more than anything is realizing that I have been watching games every Saturday in the fall for thirty some years, and every year is the same again and again, there is never any payoff to my beliefs that someday it will all be worth it.
Frustration in the midst of road blocks is how it often works with our faith. We read the scriptures, and still can’t discern God’s ways. We pray night after night, yet never get the answer that we seemingly desire. We reach out to friends and family with the Christian faith, only to encounter indifference. These occurrences are going to hurt us on some level.
I imagine that it might be like the hurt that the Foolish Virgins were going through as the Bride Groom kept failing to arrive for the wedding. The Foolish Virgins could not make sense of God’s absence.
The reason that Matthew’s gospel includes this parable has to do with an issue that many of the earliest Christians were experiencing. Many Christians were anticipating the Second Coming to occur within their lifetime, yet as year after year with by with seemingly no resolution, it would have been increasingly easy to wonder if their faith were any good. Waiting is difficult because we are often not content with the present. We continually struggle trying to discern God’s presence within our lives. The thing about waiting is that it can often last until deep within the night.
I remember earlier this spring, Mark Vander Tuig who is the National Service Coordinator for LCMC was speaking with our regional group of pastors down in Duluth. Mark said that he receives calls all the time from pastors complaining about what is wrong with their ministry “They’re lonely and isolated” “Money is tight” and “People aren’t coming to church”.
Mark knew this can beat people down, yet what Mark reminded us never to lose sight of is that we have Jesus; we have a Bride Groom that is promising to come! This Bride Groom will not disappoint.
What we need to remember is that waiting is a reality of living in the not yet of God’s presence. Christianity is ultimately a religion of waiting. We wait guided by the promise that our God will eventually make all things new.
What separates the Wise Virgins from the Foolish Virgins? Both groups are sought by the Bride Groom. The judgment does not take place on the basis of their own worthiness or attractiveness. The Wise Virgins have faith that the Bride Groom is indeed coming for them, no matter how long they might have to wait for his arrival. The Wise Virgins harken back to Matthew 7 when Jesus says
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”-Matthew 7:24-27
Pastor Tim Zingale tells the following story. There was a young man who applied for a job as a farm hand. The Farmer asked this man for his qualifications when he said “I can sleep when the wind blows.”
The Farmer didn’t know quite what this means, but the Young Man seemed like a good potential worker for the farm, so he hired him anyway.
A few days later, the farmer was awakened by one of the nastiest storms to pass through his parts in quite some time. The Farmer feared that everything was not taken care off. The Farmer rolls out of bed frantically. The Farmer checks the shutters only to see they were fastened in the farmhouse. He then sees the implements had been placed in the shed, safe from Mother Nature. The barn had been properly locked; even the animals were as dry as could be.
It was finally then that the Farmer grasped the young man’s words “I can sleep when the winds blows”.
The Farm Hand was like the Wise Virgins, prepared for anything that life might throw at him. So as the wind kicked up that night, as the night grew darker and darker, he had no fear. The Farm Hand was able to sleep with the peace of a newborn.
The Farm Hand didn’t know when the storm was coming, yet the Farm Hand was going to be ready. The thing that ultimately separates the Wise and Foolish Virgins boils down to their faith. The Wise Virgins kept their faith even in the midst of the Bride Groom’s absence, where as the Foolish Virgins would rather dig their own graves. The Wise Virgins understood that they did not know the day or the hour. The Wise Virgins were not going to be dismayed thinking in terms of God’s activity being either a now or never proposition.
The story of the Farm Hand is a tale of promise in the midst of adversity it harkens back to the most famous verse in the Bible in John 3:16 “For this is how God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I want to close with a story this morning. When I was working down in Lamberton, I did a funeral for a man named Arlo. I would constantly go visit Arlo during the time I was down there. What I will always remember when I asked Arlo “How he was doing?” Arlo’s response would always be the same “terrible”.
It made sense that Arlo would feel this way. He had all sorts of health problems define the last two decades of his life (Muscular Dystrophy, Strokes, Diabetes, and Toe Infections). Arlo’s ability to speak and to move grew increasingly difficult over time. Arlo’s life seemed to be a never ending journey back and forth from the nursing home to the hospital back to home again and again.
I had no doubt that Arlo was “terrible” every time I saw him. What I will always recall is sitting down to plan the funeral with his widow Shirley. Shirley asked if I could tie in Arlo’s life with the story of Job. Job the great man of faith who had lost everything in his children, his possessions, and eventually his health through no failings of his own. All Job wanted to know from God was “Why did he feel so terrible day after day? “What Job’s story indicates is that God’s presence in this world is often so confusing and so mysterious that we think that it constitutes an absence. God eventually tells Job that he couldn’t understand how everything might work together in the future especially that which he couldn’t not see.
The main point of the Book of Job is that God will do what is best, even if it doesn’t make sense to us. How there is ultimately no good answer to the problem of evil, other than to point to the Cross. God did eventually come to Job. Job’s fortunes eventually get restored, yet these events happened on a very different time line from what Job would have wished. The Bride Groom is coming. The wait will soon be worth it!
 Matthew 25:3
 Matthew 25:10
 This very wise insight is given by Karoline Lewis at Working Preacher in a commentary entitled “How to Wait” published on Sunday, November 2nd, 2014.
 Revelation 21:5
 This comes to my go to commentary on the Parables of Jesus in Robert Farar Capon’s Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Eerdman’s Publishing. Grand Rapids, MI. 2002. Capon’s commentary on this passage occurs on pages 495-501.
 Zingale, Tim. “I Can sleep When the wind blows”. sermoncentral.com. November 2002. Web. Nov.3.2014
 Zingale, Tim. “I Can sleep When the wind blows”.
 Capon. Robert. Kingdom, Grace, and Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus.pg.495-501
 Matthew 25:13